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New bid to deliver learning culture

Neil Munro reports from Glasgow on the first annual conference of the Scottish Qualifications Authority

THE Government is determined to find a formula that will "create a nation of learners", Gerry Wilson, head of the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department, said last week. But Mr Wilson was unable to provide any details of the Scottish Office's much anticipated proposals for lifelong learning, which may not appear until August, five months after the English equivalent.

Addressing the Scottish Qualifications Authority's conference in Glasgow, Mr Wilson did indicate that the Government's plans would not be based on yet another series of education and training initiatives. "It is not just a supply side problem," he said. "We need to create a learning culture."

Scotland has proved particularly stubborn territory to date. A MORI poll two years ago revealed that while 71 per cent of adults believed learning could lead to a better quality of life, 63 per cent said they were unlikely to take part in any kind of course over the next 12 months.

Some ingredients in the Government's fightback have already been announced, notably a Scottish University for Industry to reach those "untouched" by education. Other policies spelled out by Mr Wilson include:

* A "climbing frame" of qualifications to allow people to move from one level of learning to another.

* The target-setting initiative to raise school standards.

* The Higher Still emphasis on bridging academic and vocational divisions.

* The continuing development of work-based qualifications.

* The new deal for jobless 18 to 24-year-olds and the long-term unemployed aged over 25.

* New national training organisations which will replace industry lead bodies and industrial training organisation - these will ensure that sectors of industry and occupations are skilled for employers' needs (see below).

Ron Tuck, the SQA's chief executive, suggested that the new credit and qualifications framework should make it possible for Higher Still pupils to take workplace-assessed Scottish Vocational Qualifications alongside school courses as part of the new Scottish Group Awards. There are now more than 800 SVQs and annual enrolments have gone from zero to 36,000 in eight years.

The framework, which was recommended in the Garrick report on Scottish higher education, is an ambitious attempt to link post-16 school, college, university and workplace qualifications allowing learners to move from one level to another.

Mr Tuck stressed the importance of higher national certificates and diplomas, which play a key part in widening access to higher education and account for a third of higher education provision in Scotland. The number of HNC and HND candidates has grown from 16,000 in 1990 to 57,000 today.

The SQA chief expressed "disappointment" that the Pounds 6 million Scottish Office subsidy to provide free tuition for part-time higher education is confined to university degree courses, thereby excluding HNC and HND students.

"I hope this can be changed eventually," Mr Tuck commented.

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